Nottamun Town

 
"Nottamun Town" - Rachel Schutz, soprano and harp. Recorded at Stony Brook Chamber Music Festival, May 5, 2016
 

This is a musical setting of the words to a Southern Appalachian ballad. Though the words are in the tradition of the nonsense song,  the dark imagery evokes madness, alienation, and exile.  In the light of the global refugee crisis, this text assumes new relevance.

In North America, the best-known version of this song came from Jean Ritchie's Kentucky family.  In her Folk Songs of the Southern Appalachians (1965) Ritchie writes that the song was not "ever sung lightly about the house… We knew that it was supposed to be a funny song, but … we never felt like laughing when we sang it."

Most of the text is from Jean Ritchie's version, but I have made use of some variant lyrics from other versions.  (Bob Dylan borrowed the melody of the Ritchie version for his song "Masters of War")

Text:  Nottamun Town

In fair Nottamun town not a soul would look up
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down
To show me the way to fair Nottamun town

I rode a grey horse, a mule roany mare,
Grey mane and grey tail, a green stripe down her back;
Grey mane and grey tail, a green stripe down her back;
There warn't a hair on her be what was coal black.

The horse stood still, threw me off in the dirt,
She tore all my body, she bruised all my shirt
From saddle to stirrup I mounted again
And on my ten toes I rode over the plain.

Met the King and the Queen and a company more
A-riding behind and a-marching before
Come a stark nekked drummer a-beating a drum
With his heels in his bosom a-marching along.

They laughed and they smiled, not a soul did look gay
They talked all the while, not a word did they say;
I called for a glass to drive gladness away
And to stifle the dust, for it rained all the day.

Set down on a hard, a hot, a cold frozen stone
Ten thousand stood 'round me, yet I 'us alone
(Ten thousand stood 'round me, a-gazing at me
Ten thousand stood 'round me, not a soul did I see
Not a soul would look up, not a soul would look down)

Took my hat in my hands to keep my head warm.
Ten thousand got drownded that never was born.


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